Kentucky to Develop New System

K-12 Testing

Recently approved legislation will require Kentucky to replace its often-praised but controversial Kentucky Instructional Results Information System (KIRIS) assessment program. The new Commonwealth Accountability Testing System (CATS), which is to begin in the spring of 1999, will be designed by the state Board of Education. Several advisory committees also have been established.


How different the new system actually will be remains to be seen. The state will administer a norm-referenced test (NRT) in three grades, which it has not done since the start of KIRIS. The NRT, like the rest of the new test, is supposed to be based on the state's curriculum.


Many people involved in the issue expect that much of the KIRIS program will remain intact. For example, one of the advisory committee members said preservation of the portfolio program is essential.


Some critics of KIRIS complained that the new law is not sufficiently different from KIRIS. They had sought to use only an NRT. Supporters of the legislation maintained that, by not requiring only a commercial test, the state has defended the essence of its school reform law.


KIRIS was widely viewed as a major innovation in state assessment programs due to its use of open-ended items, portfolios, and performance events. For a time, it did not use multiple-choice items (see Examiner, Fall 1994 ). Testing Our Children, a 1997 FairTest review of state testing programs, rated Kentucky a 4 on a 5-point scale, making it one of the higher-ranked programs in the nation.


Those same innovations brought attacks against KIRIS, as did some major technical mistakes committed by its former contractor, Advanced Systems. The rewards and sanctions attached to assessment results also were very controversial and fueled some of the anger over KIRIS (see Examiner, Fall 1997); the process for determining them also will be revised.